Yesterday, I wrote about Sad Tails with Happy Endings!, a rescue shutdown by Southbury Animal Control. Since then, I've been in several discussions about the situation, including speaking with people directly involved.
I am particularly concerned about comments that some are making based on assumptions or inaccuracies. A post on Helping Connecticut Canines' Facebook page asking donations to the pound where the dogs have been taken describes this as "a serious hoarding situation".
This is a questionable assertion at best. Ms. Boeckel was running a rescue. Her website lists dogs that she had successfully adopted out and others available for adoption. The description of the veterinary care and feeding procedures for these animals that I've obtained clearly indicate to me that she was not hoarding.
Another comment that I found particularly disturbing was "I assure you they would not have been taken unless the dogs and cats were in immediate need. Thirty plus dogs in any home being cared for by one person is impossible." Based on the information I've obtained, I question whether or not the animals were in immediate need, and I know that the assertion that they were being cared for by only one person is factually incorrect.
Others have jumped in and noted that they knew of a person who as organizing a fundraiser for the rescue and others have applauded Ms. Boeckel's work.
I don't know the ACOs in Southbury, but based on my experience dealing with other ACOs as well as the State Dept. of Ag., I don't always accept everything they say at face value.
If the amount of effort that has gone into taking the animals and subsequently getting supplies to the Southbury Dog Pound had gone into helping Ms. Boeckel in the first place, I believe there would have been a much better outcome.
I am also very concerned when ACOs shutdown a rescue because they don't like the way it is being run. I believe it sets a very dangerous precedent.
So, I encourage everyone to help clean up the mess now and prevent future messes. An important step in this is accuracy in reporting, and not calling something a "a serious hoarding situation", when it is far from clear that this is the case.
Years ago, Fiona and I drove a young pit bull up to Maine as part of a team effort to save the dog from imminent euthanasia. The trip introduced us to what is going on in animal rescue here in Connecticut and across the country. I haven't looked at the official numbers from the State of Connecticut in a few years, but last time I looked, approximately 3,000 animals were put to sleep each year by animal control officers across the state. Too often, animal control was a thankless task tacked onto the responsibilities of the police department, who found it easier just to kill the animals than to find them homes.
Yet Connecticut is one of the better states. Across the country there are states that kill hundreds of thousands of animals each year, and estimate at the total number of animals killed typically vary in the range of three to ten million.
Over the years, I've also gotten to know many rescuers. Some can be a little fanatical, some may lack political finesse, but for the most part, they are the kindest best intentioned people I have met. They sometimes have run-ins with police departments, animal control officers, and the State Department of Agriculture that oversees animal control and I was saddened to hear of the latest run in.
NBC Connecticut posted a story yesterday, 31 Dogs, 3 Cats Seized from Southbury Home.
Owner Nancy Boeckel said she was running an animal rescue business out of her Georges Hill Road home and the dogs were neither abused nor neglected.
There is also a brief article in the Republican American about the seizing of the dogs.
The rescue community, despite various differences, is fairly close knit, so I thought I'd try to get a little more information. From Nancy's LinkedIn page, I found that she was educated at Quinnipiac and runs "Sad Tails Happy Endings" animal rescue.
This led me to the rescue's Petfinder page. Currently, it does not list any animals available for rescue. I'm not sure if this is because the page hasn't been maintained, or if it has been updated as a result of the animal control raid.
On her page, she talks about rescuing Maggie:
Maggie was an owner surrender after 8 years reason given "no time". I was notified Maggie was scheduled to be killed, I was able to rescue her within 3 hours remaining until her scheduled death. I became Maggie's foster Mom.
Christmas morning I transported Maggie to her new family. She was a surprise for 4 children for Christmas. The look of amazement and sheer joy on the children's faces will remain in my heart and mind forever. The parents and grandmother were standing there with tears of happiness running down there faces. It was a very special Christmas morning for all of us. Maggie is now living in her new forever home as happy as can possibly be. The entire family truly love her deeply and she returns their love ten fold.
Yes, rescue is a small word with an enormous meaning!
She also has a website, Sad Tails with Happy Endings!. It has pictures of about twenty dogs that have been adopted and about a dozen currently ready for adoption. There are links to poems popular in the rescuing community.
There is also a link to a blog about one of the dogs that was adopted from Nancy, and great pictures and a video of the adopted dog.
Doing a bit more digging, it appears as if she has had health and financial difficulties. Let's hope a solution can be found that will be best for every, human, canine and feline, involved.
Today, 1,803 voters in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge went to the polls and rejected a referendum to spend $945,000 installing astroturf at Amity High School. While the turnout was very low by normal election standards, for an off-season referendum, the numbers were higher than many expected.
Based on the chatter around various water coolers, it seems like it boiled down to the fiscal conservatives and the environmental conservatives against the sports parents, with many people not having an opinion, and voting based on the recommendations of their friends.
The environmental conservatives were probably the loudest with comments against the proposal on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page, and presumably in backchannels. They expressed concern about fumes and runoff from the artificial turf. The fiscal conservatives spoke up at meetings raising concern about the towns' debt burdens.
This time, I decided to try an exit poll, which I set up using Google Documents. I put it together very quickly before heading off to work, so there were some mistakes in it. It wasn't clear to everyone that while I optionally gathered demographic information, there was no way for me to get any other information about the people filling out the poll.
A handful of people completed the poll, the results were 2 to 1 against the referendum in the exit poll and about the same 64% to 36% in the actual voting. For concerns express, the biggest concern appears to have been the cost, followed by health issues, and environmental issues.
At the Woodbridge polling location just a few people showed up to find the results, and the biggest concern appears to have been about the lack of information that was distributed about the referendum and who should have distributed it.
The Amity AstroTurf Referendum is today, and I've set up a simple, unscientific exit poll using Google Docs. If you live in Bethany, Woodbridge, or Orange, please consider filling out this poll
If I get enough responses, I'll post about the results here or in a later blog post.
Update: One person asked about the anonymity of this poll. It was set up using Google Docs. You do not have to be logged into Google Docs to fill out the poll. It does track the time you filled it out, and your answer to the questions, but it does not track any other information besides the questions you answer.
We've already had answers from all three towns.
On Tuesday, voters from Bethany, Woodbridge, and Orange will go to the polls to vote on a referendum about installing astroturf at Amity Regional High School. There has been a bit if discussion about the issue on various social media sites, but no good comprehensive examination of the subject that I've been able to find.
So, I've been gathering information from various sources which I will try to present here.
Two links have been posted on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page:
The first article appears to be a fairly balanced view of the topic. It lists advantages as lower, maintenance costs, pesticide free, increased playability, fewer injuries and saves water. For the cons, it talks about a heat hazard, lead, zinc and other harmful chemicals, increased MRSA risk, bacterial breeding ground, adverse affect on asthmatics and once artificial, always artificial.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide links to support its claims, and there is plenty of material to contradict various claims. For example, the New York State Department of Health has a Fact Sheet: Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields
While injury studies have not consistently identified differences in abrasion and laceration risks between natural and infilled synthetic turf, some types of synthetic turf may result in more skin abrasions. Although very few tests have been performed, the available data do not suggest the widespread presence of infectious agents, such as MRSA, on synthetic turf fields. Also, the available information indicates that outdoor or indoor synthetic turf surfaces are no more likely to harbor infectious agents than other surfaces in those same environments. Disease outbreak investigations conducted in response to illnesses caused by a variety of germs (e.g., MRSA, Campylobacter, meningococcus, echovirus, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis virus, coxsackie virus) have not identified playing fields, either natural or synthetic, as likely to increase the risk of transmitting infections.
Another valuable resource is the The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Risk Assessment of Artificial Turf Fields.
The second article is written by a turfgrass producer and is far from unbiased. Yet even this article contradicts the first article:
Teams that once had artificial grass, like the Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals and Mariners, have chosen natural grass when updating their fields.
Over on the Woodbridge - Bethany Residents Forum there has been a lengthy discussion. I highlighted a few different articles, such as NH Register 5/19/2013: Amity considers artificial turf for field and Orange Live 8/24/2012 - A Letter From The Amity Turf Committee. Allison Rossi also shared a link to Group seeks $700,000 for turf football field at Amity High School, and to Bethwood Patch 1/10/2012: Turf Wars Avoided at Amity and Ed Walsh shared, NH Register 1/13/2012: Amity dads hope to raise $1M for artificial turf field
There are a few key things that come out of this. There had been an effort to raise private funds which appears not to have been successful, and the price has fluctuated between $700,000 and $1 million.
There has also been considerable discussion at various town meetings. Summaries of these discussions can be found in minutes of various board meetings.
Fundraising for a turf field has been done by a committee of dedicated volunteers and so far $2,000 has been raised. Another route to getting the turf field could be to bond it. We could present the idea to the people of the three communities and see if they would support spending $900,000 for this. With a brand new turf field, you can deduct approximately $20,000 per year for field maintenance. If a situation arose where it snowed, the field could be plowed.
It starts off with
Mr. Mengold recapped the history of discussion around an artificial turf field, beginning in 2004 with a proposal to the Board. He reviewed debunked reports on harmful effects of such fields (carcinogenic materials, increased injuries, etc.) and how the state Attorney General’s moratorium on installing artificial turf was later lifted. He went over the wet conditions of the current grass field, how heavy use by both Amity and community youth football games damaged the field and led to more athletic injuries.
Most other sports teams play on synthetic turf fields at other schools; in Amity’s DRG only one other school does not have a synthetic turf field.
The public hearing was followed by a special meeting, Amity Regional School District No. 5 Special Meeting Board of Education May 21, 2013 where the board approved
APPROPRIATION OF $945,000 AND AUTHORIZATION OF BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD
The board then approved a referendum on the bonds:
SHALL REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER 5 APPROPRIATE $945,000 AND AUTHORIZE BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD?
I've also spoken with elected officials of neighboring towns, who have spoken positively of their experiences installing astroturf at their high schools.
Based on all of this, it seems to me that there is not compelling evidence of significant negative environmental or health risks to moving astroturf. In terms of the most basic cost benefit analysis, it appears as if the fields would cost $20,000 a year less to maintain, but that would take close to fifty years to cover the cost of the installation.
There have been discussions about special shoes necessary for playing on astroturf, but it is not such that the fields couldn't be used for other sports and given that our teams play away games at schools with astroturf, I suspect the shoes necessary for playing on astroturf are already available.
So, is the cost of installing astroturf worth it in terms of additional field use, or other benefits? I haven't seen a strong argument for that either.
In terms of private funding, I would love to see people from the community step up to help cover some of the cost, but I worry about this leading towards a slippery slope. What school activities should be publicly funded? Which ones should be privately funded? Should we look for private funding to make upgrades to science laboratories?
While I have yet to find compelling reasons for, or against the astroturf, I hope this will help others be better informed about the issue, make their own decisions, and show up at the voting booth on Tuesday.